A man was sentenced to life imprisonment here today for rioting and threatening behavior before a soccer game last year in the first of what is expected to be a series of stiff penalties for "football hooliganism."
In delivering the sentence, a high court judge told Kevin Whitton, 25, that "this is the type of behavior which has branded an entire generation of British people in the eyes of the world as being dangerous and violent and outside the law and bad sports."
Whitton was sentenced to another 10 years on a separate conviction for assaulting Neil Hanson, the 30-year-old American manager of a London restaurant. After his team lost the soccer game, Whitton was one of a gang that entered Hanson's restaurant and attacked him, breaking a beer glass over his head and repeatedly stabbing the glass shards in his face and hands.
The riot sentence was by far the lengthiest ever imposed here for soccer-related violence. It follows the deaths of 39 persons last summer when British fans attacked the followers of their team's Italian opponents during a game in Brussels.
Sport and police authorities hailed the sentence as one that would "send shock waves around potential troublemakers." The chairman of the Chelsea soccer team, of which Whitton was a fan, said the sentence should be "a clear warning to all would-be violent idiots wherever they may be."
The courtroom broke into pandemonium when the life term was announced. Whitton's mother began to shriek and had to be carried out of the building by security officials. Whitton fought with police guards and was carried kicking out of the room.
According to the prosecution, Whitton, a self-employed tile-layer from south London, joined a group of about 20 young men who were fighting and threatening people trying to enter an afternoon game last Dec. 29 between Chelsea and Manchester United at the Chelsea home field.